James Madison

1751 - 1809. 4th President of the United States. Known as the "Father of the Constitution."

Quotes by This Author

“…democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they are violent in their deaths.” (James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No. 10.)

“I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that is not the guide in expounding it, there may be no security.” (James Madison, in letter to Henry Lee June 25, 1824.)

“As the courts are generally the last in making the decision, it results to them, by refusing or not refusing to execute a law, to stamp it with its final character. This makes the Judiciary department paramount in fact to the Legislature, which was never intended, and can never be proper.” (James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Vol. VIII, p. 293. October 15, 1788.)

“It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices [as Constitutional chains] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? ... If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. [But lacking these] in framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (James Madison, Federalist Papers, No. 51.)

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.... This danger ought to be wisely guarded against.” (James Madison, Debates in the State Conventions, 3:87.)

“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents.(James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 1:163. 1785.)

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort.... This being the end of government, that alone is not a just government which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.… That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.” (James Madison, The Complete Madison, p. 267.)

“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few....No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. In war too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honours, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.” (James Madison, Political Observations, April 20, 1795.)

“The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the Legislature the power of declaring a state of war [and] the power of raising armies.... A delegation of such powers [to the President] would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments. The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it, is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.” (James Madison, Political Observations, April 20, 1795.)

“The powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few and defined.” (James Madison, Federalist Papers, No. 45.)

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” (James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No. 47.)

“I consider it…as subverting the fundamental and characteristic principle of the Government…and as bidding defiance to the sense in which the Constitution is known to have been proposed, advocated, and adopted. If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one.” (James Madison, Early in this country's history an attempt was made to enlarge the intended powers of the federal government by interpreting the Welfare Clause as a separate grant of power authorizing Congress to enact laws it deems desirable involving the use of tax money to promote the general welfare. This attempt was energetically opposed by James Madison, who is noted for the great part he played in designing our constitutional system.)

“I do not conceive that power is given to the President and Senate to dismember the empire, or to alienate any great, essential right. I do not think the whole legislative authority have this power. The exercise of the power must be consistent with the object of the delegation.” (James Madison, Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention, Elliot 3:499-515. June 18, 1788.)

“The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse of all the trusts committed to a Government, because they can be concealed or disclosed, or disclosed in such parts and at such times as will best suit particular views; and because the body of the people are less capable of judging, and are more under the influence of prejudices, on that branch of their affairs, than of any other. Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.(James Madison, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1798.)

“The great objects which presented themselves [to the Constitutional Convention] ... formed a task more difficult than can be well conceived by those who were not concerned in the execution of it. Adding to these considerations the natural diversity of human opinions on all new and complicated subjects, it is impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed as less than a miracle.” (James Madison)

“The real wonder is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted [in the federal convention], and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.” (James Madison)

“I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea, if there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.” (James Madison, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, vol 3, pp. 536-37.)

“Besides, the advantage of being armed forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. The governments of Europe are afraid to trust the people with arms. If they did, the people would certainly shake off the yoke of tyranny, as America did.” (James Madison)

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” (James Madison)

“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” (James Madison)

“The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” (James Madison)

“The ultimate authority resides in the people, and that if the federal government go too powerful and overstepped its authority, then the people would develop plans of resistance and resort to arms.” (James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No. 46.)